Legal aid - campaigning for fairness for families
Background to the legal aid changes
In 2011 the coalition government introduced the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO). Resolution and other leading organisations and charities opposed the Bill, believing it to be a rushed and flawed piece of legislation. We urged MPs and Peers make amendments to avoid huge unfairness to families.
The Bill received Royal Assent in 2012 and comes into force on 1 April 2013. Despite ensuring a number of concessions (see below) Resolution remains concerned that the Bill will have serious social consequences. It is likely to increase the total cost of family breakdown and could effectively restrict justice for the most vulnerable.
What can be done now?
- Write to your MP if you have are experiencing difficulties accessing the help and support that you need.
- You can also write to your MP to express your concern about the legal aid reforms and cuts to legal aid, even if you are not directly affected. To find out who your local representative is, you can visit TheyWorkForYou.com (opens in a new window).
Resolution will continue to monitor the Bill and its effects as changes are rolled out. There remains much confusion about how the changes will be implemented and Resolution will continue to work with partner organisations to update the advice we provide to separating families and to signpost people to appropriate advice.
What Resolution achieved
In its original form the Bill outlined cuts to legal aid for most family law cases. The initial proposals would also have made it very difficult for victims of domestic violence to access legal aid. As a result of the campaigning work that Resolution and partner organisations carried out, the government agreed to a number of concessions (see below).
As part of this campaign, we lobbied MPs and Peers about the consequences of cutting legal aid for most family law cases. In conjunction with partner organisations Gingerbread, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes and Rights of Women, Resolution published a briefing on the changes, outlining the risks associated with the government’s proposals. As part of our awareness-raising work, Resolution supported the Sound off for Justice and Justice for All campaigns.
- The Bill now includes a wider definition of domestic violence for assessing eligibility for legal aid, bringing it in line with the definition used by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and government departments.
- The government agreed to widen the evidence threshold for assessing whether a victim of domestic violence is eligible for legal aid: Among other things, evidence from a GP, a refuge, a domestic violence support worker, or a police caution will be sufficient to assess eligibility for victims of domestic violence to access private family legal aid.
- Original restrictions intended to limit eligibility for victims of domestic violence to one year from the date of the evidence were extended to two years.
- The Bill retains legal aid in some circumstances where domestic child abduction has happened or is feared.
Legal aid funding for dispute resolution
- The government made assurances that funding could still be made available for collaborative law and other dispute resolution in the future, in addition to mediation.
- The Bill was amended to ensure that there remains the possibility for areas of law to be added to the scope of legal aid in the future, without the need for further primary legislation.